The City Under the Sea - Tuesday

Princess of the Deep

© 2000 by Scorpio Milo

This page was last modified: 2000/01/04


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Camus

Standing on the top of a small hill laid here and there with heather, I was deeply inhaling the intoxicating western wind, blowing from the ocean to my homeland. It was an intense scent which could not be found anywhere else and which gave me the impression that all that had happened since I had left this place had been but a dream. A dream in which I had thought I had become someone else. A Saint. A warrior. But, now, I had awoken and I was still in Brittany. I never left.

"So?" asked Milo, remorselessly interrupting my daydreaming. "Since we obviously cannot go much farther west without walking on the water, maybe it could be time for you to tell me what we have to do."

"I don't know exactly," I said, shrugging, as carefree as I had ever felt. "I came back to find someone I haven't seen since I left this place."

"What is his or her name ?"

"Ahès. Her name is Ahès."

It was so strange to pronounce that name again after having buried it in myself during more than ten years. In my mouth, it had something like a taste of magic, of the absolute.

"I made a promise to her when I left. I said I would come back one day and accomplish one task for her, whatever she would ask."

Milo grumbled which could mean anything with him.

"I have to remind you we are Saints of Athena. We are not supposed to serve anybody else."

"I gave my word," I answered, looking at him. "And, anyway, it will only be a matter of accomplishing the mission she will choose to entrust to me. It won't go against the interests of Sanctuary and I won't fight for personal reasons."

Milo did not look convinced and I wondered if I myself was. Very simply, I did not want to think about it. Anyway, I had indeed given my word and, as a Saint, I could not go back on it.

"Does this Ahès live far from here?" asked Milo, looking thoughtfully at the sun, which was beginning its eastern rise.

"Not very much." I answered laconically. "But, before anything else, we must go to a village, not very far."

"You do not appear to be very much in a hurry," Milo muttered to himself while I began the descent at a swift pace.

* * *

The bell rang. One time, two times, three times, four times, five times, six times, seven times. A deep, low and... sad sound? Or was it I who was sad now?

Plogoff. A small village, all of gray stone, its back to the sea. A score of houses at best, all of them squat and low, as if overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky. The alleys were narrow, covered with muddy and worn cobblestones. A feeling of oldness, antiquity was emanating from it. An isolated place, lost in the middle of vast, worthless lands. If it was to disappear suddenly, who would notice it? Nobody. No man would even remember that it had existed. How important was this village? It was located on the far end of the world, forgotten by all, insignificant.

"What did you want to see here?" asked Milo, observing our surroundings.

I strode up the small alley leading to the portal of the church. The village was sparsely populated at this hour. The men already had been gone fishing and the women were still inside of their houses. Here and there, as we went by, a shutter, a door opened for someone to look at us. But nobody came out and I didn't stop.

The church and its slender steeple... The building had been more or less renovated and it stood out against the rest of the village. Not recent, just less ancient, and, somehow, lighter.

"I was born here."

Milo looked at me with surprise but swiftly recovered.

"To be precise, I was born in this house," I said, pointing it out.

A house like any other, even to my eyes. Gray-stone walls, cemented with clay. A roof made with old slates, covered with lichen. A door, low and recessed. A simple skylight acting as a window. I was born and I had spent the first six years of my life here. I had played, eaten, slept in this house every day of the six years. And yet, now that I saw it again, I did not recognize it. It had changed in no way. It was I who was no more the same. My memories were still here, present, enduring, but I couldn't manage to associate them with the house.

A moment, a very brief moment, I felt the impulse to go and knock on the door, introduce myself and enter. Who would be living there, now? Certainly my aunt and uncle, if they were still alive. If not, then probably one of my numerous cousin. I didn't remember any of their name. There had been seven years of difference between me and the youngest of them.

A handful of children and their mothers had just left the shelter of their houses and were watching us. And their eyes, both fascinated and slightly afraid, confirmed what I already knew: I was a stranger, with nothing to do here anymore. Not even to feel pity over the past. It was true -- I wanted to see the inside of the house again that had seen me as a child. But, in truth, it was meaningless. Even if nothing had changed, which was likely, I wouldn't recover my memories back there.

"They ought to recognize you then," Milo said, while the other inhabitants slowly appeared.

"It has been thirteen years since I left," I answered in a toneless voice. "I have changed during that time."

But, most of all, and I knew it very well, without wanting to voice it, everybody had forgotten me. And I had forgotten them, too. It hadn't been difficult. I had never fit here. I had never felt I did. As a child, I always preferred to wander in the area rather than stay here. Yet, after all these years, I had thought that... I had thought that seeing this place again would have some kind of effect on me. But no, I wasn't feeling anything, except some kind of disappointment.

"Let's go," I said finally, turning my eyes away. "We don't have any time to lose here."

I avoided looking at Milo, but I could easily guess his thoughts. Since I had been back to Brittany, I did not seem to know what I wanted. And this was also the feeling I had. It had been a shock to see my homeland again after so many years and I began to experience some doubts about my own intentions. Why did I suddenly decide to come back to this place? Was it really to honour a promise I made at the age of six? Or was it to see Ahès again before the beginning of the Holy Wars? It wasn't very clear in my mind. Yet I was not used to act frivolously or rashly. Finally, I emptied my mind of all of these useless questions. Now that I was here, it would have been ludicrous to change my mind. Going back to Ys would not cost me anything. Maybe there, at last, I would feel right.

It took us only a few minutes to leave the tiny village and reach the small gray-pebbled beach opening to the ocean, less than a hundred meters away. It was from here that the fishing boats of the men of the village left. It was from here, too, that I had wandered to the sea, one day of spring, all alone in a small boat, and that I had almost drowned in a storm. For the moment, the beach was empty.

"How long can you hold your breath?" I asked Milo after turning around.

He raised an eyebrow, surprised.

"I'm not sure," he answered after a moment of thinking. "At least two hours without much trouble. Maybe more."

I nodded. It would be more than enough. Not every Saint knew the cosmo technique permitting to spend long periods of time under water without breathing. But Milo had spent most of his life among the Greek islands and it wasn't very surprising that he had mastered it.

"Your Ahès lives underwater?" asked Milo, half-surprised, half-curiously.

"Exactly," I answered thoughtfully, while long-buried memories came back to my mind. "But you'll see by yourself in a moment, if I manage to determine the direction. For the moment..."

I put down the golden box I had been carrying and ignited my cosmo. One moment, I almost had difficulty doing it, as if I had forgotten how to since I was back here. But the moment after I was feeling power rushing both inside of me and inside of the box. The metallic sides of the heavy box parted, then opened. There was a blaze of intense energy as the pieces of my Cloth separated and flew through the air to cover my body. Then all of this disappeared.

"Do you expect a fight?" Milo asked, unmoving.

"No," I answered with a slight smile. "I just prefer not to expose my clothes to the sea water."

Milo put on an amused grin. When we donned our Cloths, the normal clothes we wore were replaced by a simple tunic, more practical and much stronger. This was an advantage like any other.

Anyway, it hadn't been my main reason to act like this. I had almost felt lost a moment before. Coming back here had forced me to ask myself questions about everything that had been my life since I had left. By donning my Cloth, I had wanted to cling to something concrete, tangible. And it had worked. I felt rid of the indecision that had occupied my mind, set upon meeting the events as they would happen.

The Aquarius Cloth was not just the work of a blacksmith of the mythic ages. Nor was it just a piece of metal, or a simple means of protection. It wasn't even so much a way to increase my cosmo. The Cloth was part of me, as a second skin which expanded each time I breathed. It was as old as I was, and yet, it was also intemporal. Scores of Aquarius Saints had worn it before me and left part of their essences in it. When I donned it, I didn't stop being myself, I did not renounce my personality. But I had an increased awareness of being what I had become: Aquarius Gold Saint Camus, warrior of Athena and keeper of the eleventh Temple.

A violent cosmo blaze warned me that Milo had just donned his Cloth, too. I glanced in his direction. The Scorpio Cloth only increased the feeling of mixed self-confidence, control and wildness constantly emanating from him. He was very much like how I had remembered him, and yet subtly different. More mature, perhaps. As if a veneer of charm and courtesy had been laid on him by the years.

"We should hide the boxes," he said ironically. "Or the inhabitants of your village might be distracted when they discover them."

I nodded, marking my approval.

"And after that," I said, "we will leave for Ys."

* * *

Milo

I swam effortlessly in the near-absolute darkness. This deep, pressure was not yet a problem and I wasn't experiencing any difficulty for the moment. Scorpio was a sign of water, after all. I had always enjoyed swimming, the feeling of letting myself float in near-weightlessness, under the surface of the waves, in an alien universe where sounds and colors were smothered. During all my training, it had been one of the few ways I had been able to free myself of the tension inhabiting my being and to briefly find some sort of peace. The waters of the Mediterranean Sea were so clear, so soothing...

Of course, at this moment, I saw almost nothing. We were much too far under the surface. I had to rely exclusively on my sixth sense in order to follow Camus. I dimly wondered where he was leading me, but it didn't concern me too much. I would know soon enough.

No, what concerned me most was what we would have to face. Camus told me about this promise he had made before leaving Brittany, and asserted that fulfilling it wouldn't go against our duty as Saints of Athena. But I couldn't help but be skeptical. Was Camus being completely objective? Or was he acting according to his feelings toward this Ahès, whoever she was? I had a hard time believing that he could let himself be dominated by his emotions, but nevertheless...

My sixth sense started humming furiously. There was something before us. Something very big. I couldn't manage to determine what it was, but Camus was heading directly toward it. Suspicious, as always, I extended my seventh sense in that direction. And the answer came to me almost immediately. It was an air bubble, a gigantic air bubble on the bottom of the ocean. Its diameter averaged at least ten kilometers and I could feel living beings inside of it.

This was astonishing. Of course, I had already heard about the underwater Sanctuary of Poseidon, but I had never expected to find something similar here. It couldn't be anything natural. Was it the dwelling of a sea divinity who ruled this ocean? It was unlikely. A few more meters and I would know for sure. The surface of the titanic bubble was shimmering before me, only shard of light in the darkness. Little by little, it expanded, again and again, until it filled my whole field of vision. I reached it...

A brutal explosion of brightness, emptiness replacing water around me. The transition was so sudden that I was confused for a second, dazzled, bewildered. Then I recovered and watched where I was.

I was on the top of a high tower, surrounded by crenels. Just behind me, water was forming a wall whose opaqueness was impossible to pierce. The air was breathable, heavy with an intoxicating sea scent, but without any other distinctive feature. I took a step ahead, curiously... and discovered, spreading before me, the most marvellous city I had ever seen.

Everywhere steeples, slender towers, gracious arches. Everywhere fountains and marble statues. The simplest house was so beautiful it would have been mistaken for a palace anywhere else. And all of this stretched as far as one could see, within a titanic alabaster wall, regularly divided by towers like the one I was standing on. This city, that Camus had named Ys, was much vaster than Athens, much vaster than all the cities, modern or not, that I had ever seen. And so much more beautiful. It seemed like a gigantic iridescent-white pearl, without the slightest fault, set on the bottom of the ocean. It was not an astentatious or vain beauty. It was a radiant and captivating beauty, like a net which invariably seized the heart of all who laid their eyes on the marvelous city of Ys.

I took a step backward, stunned, trying to recover my usual detachment... and it was then that I heard them. The bells of Ys, with their silvery sound, both sad and merry. Bursting into wild ringing, their voices intermingled, appearing to come from everywhere around me, piercing me with their deep and high tones, raising in me fleeting and hurting emotions. I thought my heart would tear apart at the sound of these bells.

"Milo?"

Camus' voice suddenly freed me from the spell in which I had lost myself. In a half a second, my mind became the battlefield between a part of me that I had almost ignored until then and which was deeply enchanted by the charm of this city, and my usual personality, which strongly suggested I stopped making a fool of myself. The latter having forced the former to beat a hasty retreat, it began occupying the field and, a moment later, I was myself again.

"Yes?"

Camus glanced at me, slightly surprised, but did not insist.

"We should be on our way," he said, pointing at the city spreading at our feet. "Ahès is in the palace at the center."

And, as he finished speaking, he strode over the crenels and jumped. I did likewise, after having checked that I had no chance of landing on someone. The rush of the air filled my ears as I fell. One second, two seconds, three seconds, four seconds... I landed gently in the street below and stood up immediately to rejoin Camus. Apparently, there was no one in the area. To our left spread a row of magnificent houses, to our right, the high wall and the towers. I glanced at them and re-evaluated slightly the estimations I had made before jumping. The wall rose approximately fifty meters high and the towers averaged sixty-five meters. Quite impressing, though I couldn't help but wonder what was their use in a city located under the ocean...

With a gesture, Camus motioned me to follow him and turned into a street perpendicular to the one we were in. I followed him. Apparently, Camus had given up hesitating. He seemed much more controlled than the day before, or even a few hours ago.

"What exactly is this city?" I asked while we followed a long avenue paved with square flagstones.

"It's the city of Ys," Camus answered with a shrug.

I glared at him and the shadow of a smile played on his lips.

"I cannot tell you more. It would be too long. Once we have met Ahès, you'll be able to ask her your question. She knows more about it, and, anyway, she can tell you the story better than I."

"Tell me at least one thing or three," I insisted as we arrived to large stairs leading to a bigger street.

Camus paused at the top of the stairs, looking thoughtful, as if putting together his memories. While we had seen no one until then, there were a handful of people in the avenue where we had arrived. Apparently, they had been talking but stopped when we appeared and now watched us with some kind of surprise. Not astonishment, no. Just surprise. Briefly, I wondered if the inhabitants of this city were used to strangers. Obviously, it couldn't happen everyday that two Gold Saints wearing their Cloths came to visit!

"Ys has not always been buried under the sea," Camus suddenly said, starting to move again. "As far as I know, it was founded during the sixth century of our era. It was then the capital of Cornouaille. But it was flooded and since the inhabitants have had almost no contact with the outside world, except per chance."

I grinned. Actually, when I thought about it, although they had been colourful and pleasing, the clothes of the inhabitants we had seen had been quite ancient. Of course, Sanctuary not being a summit as far as fashion was concerned, I had some excuses for not having noticed it immediately.

"And the inhabitants kept living here, and their children after them, and so on for more than fourteen centuries?" I asked while watching the magnificent buildings surrounding us.

"Not exactly," answered Camus evenly. "In fact, they are the original inhabitants, who lived at the time the city was flooded. And, indeed, they have been inhabiting this city for almost a millennium and a half."

I stared at him, thinking it was a joke. Then I remembered it was Camus speaking and dismissed the thought.

"A millennium and a half they inhabited the same city! It must be a bit boring after the ten first years, I'd say," I observed lightly.

If what he had just told me was true, I wondered how exactly it could be possible. I had heard about long life gifts bestowed by Athena in the past, and, as far as I knew, Saints tended to live longer than normal humans when they were not killed in a fight. But this was much more extreme. Whatever the cause, I was resolved not to be surprised about anything while I was here. One time had been more than enough.

"They do not feel time exactly as we do," answered Camus thoughtfully. "At last, that's what I have always thought. Not only are they still alive after all of this, but they haven't changed in the least. Children stayed children, adults stayed adults. There was no new birth. Each one of the inhabitants remained as he was when the city was flooded. Physically and mentally.

As we went on through the enormous city, I privately had fun imagining the possible consequences. People who had caught a cold on that day had kept it during fifteen centuries. People who had drunk too much on the eve of the flooding had woken up with an eternal hangover. As for the women who had been pregnant then...

"We're not very far anymore," suddenly said Camus, who hadn't said a word during the ten last minutes.

Indeed, we had arrived at a very large avenue, which probably averaged fourty meters in width. There were more passers-by here, but not as many as it could have been expected in a city of this size. Most of them watched us for a moment as we passed near them, but nothing more. Here and there were all kinds of stalls, displaying their brightly-colored merchandise. I had an almost irresistible desire to go into one of them and ask the shopkeeper how good the business had been for the last fifteen centuries but I restrained myself. I really had troubles coping with this idea...

The avenue suddenly arrived at a gigantic white square, flowery with trees and fountains. In the middle was a magnificent pearly castle, its slender towers linked by a network of gracious arches. The walls were of a luminous white, reflecting profusely the rays of the sun. Except that we were under the sea and that there were no sun here. I wondered where the light came from. Completely ignoring my unformulated rhetoric questions, Camus headed directly toward the castle, crossing the square without even looking at it.

One moment later, we arrived at the heavy doors of the palace. They were open and looked onto great stairs disappearing into the inside of the building. To either side was a score of guards in silver and green tunics, donning shining chain mails and armed with spears. Unmoving, all of them. I looked at them, one after the other, and wondered whether they had been standing guard for fifteen centuries. One could have almost believed that they were incredibly realistic statues.

Camus climbed up the three steps leading to the doors and I was almost surprised when one of the soldiers started moving and went to meet him.

"Lord Ga..."

My companion cut him off with a sharp gesture.

"My name is Camus, now."

The man appeared slightly surprised, in an almost distant way. His emotions and thoughts hardly showed on his face, though, as if he wore a clay mask.

"Lord Camus," he said in a toneless voice, "Princess Ahès is waiting for you in her room. Do you want me to send someone to warn her of your coming?"

"There's no need for it," answered Camus. "I'll go and see her immediately."

The guard nodded imperceptibly and went back to his place. A moment after, he was as unmoving again as he had been before our arrival.

"Well," I observed as we began climbing up the stairs, "they're not exactly what you could call lively."

"Hmm? Oh yes, they're always like this. That's what I told you about. Somehow, the inhabitants of Ys, except Ahès herself, remained exactly how they were at the time when their city was flooded. They tend to always think the same way they were at that time."

"They must have been bored to death, then!"

"Probably. Standing guard is never something very amusing."

"He told you Ahès was waiting for you. Does she know you're back?"

Camus wore a sad smile when we arrived to a landing.

"She has been waiting for me for thirteen years. The guard probably never even noticed I was gone."

After this, we did not exchange many words during quite a time. The inside of the palace of Ys was a true labyrinth, a maze of corridors and stairs, leading here and there to balconies or open-air gardens. One could have thought that those who had build it had done so completely aimlessly, according to the whim of their inspiration. And yet, I had the strange feeling that all of this followed a very precise pattern, a superior and subtile logic, that I guessed without quite being able to identify. I felt slightly ill at ease. Suspicion, as always. I could never get rid of it. More than all of my powers, suspicion was by far my best weapon.

Stairs, large and straight. Then other stairs, narrow and circular. After that a long passage, which arrived at an intersection. We sometimes passed servants, hurrying to fulfill tasks known only to them and not paying us any attention. I felt as if I was walking in a castle inhabited by specters. Or was it the other way around? Was it I who was the ghost, wandering silently in the corridors of this dwelling where nobody could see me? Hard to say for sure.

After a time that I estimated to average twelve minutes, we arrived to an arch linking the part of the castle where we were to a great tower. It seemed like a marble parenthesis, some kind of narrow, slightly curved bridge, rising in the air to link the two buildings, fifteen meters above the ground. There was no railing and the bridge was barely five feet wide. Inside of me, I thought that, although this arrangement would constitute an excellent defense in case the rest of the castle was invaded by a foe, in everyday life, it couldn't be very securing for those who had to cross it, especially when there was wind.

It took us only an instant to cross the thirty meters of the bridge and to enter the tower by a small, heavy wood door. It was dark here. No opening on the outside. Only a small lantern, located in a recess in the wall, one meter above the ground, did bring some brightness.

Camus took a few steps, pushed another door, low and narrow, and we arrived in a vaulted corridor where some kind of smothering half-light reigned. Burning torches were attached to the wall by steel rings about every three meters. The atmosphere was hazy.

The corridor finally arrived to three steep steps and to a large door reinforced with wrought iron. Camus raised his hand, had the slightest hesitation, knocked. A crystal-clear voice immediately answered.

"Come in, Gabriel."

Camus - Gabriel? - pushed the door, which opened soundlessly. And, a moment later, we were both at the entrance of a vast, aerian room with translucent walls, illuminated by a fresh and reviving light coming from the outside. The room was truly filled with an impression of space, and there was barely furniture in it. A crystal table, nearly transparent in the daylight. A great chandelier, hanging more than three meters above the paved ground. And a throne made of precious wood, richly ornamented. Someone - Ahès? - was sitting in it, but I did not immediately pay attention to her. My eyes went here and there, examining, analysing every detail. The place did not allow anyone to hide, but nevertheless...

Ahès rose, and all my ideas and suspicions were swept away from my mind in a bare moment. I stayed unmoving on Camus' side, standing in the middle of the bright room, and I could not manage to dispel the thought that had appeared by itself in my mind. How beautiful she is...

Ahès was thin and slender like a willow twig, and her long blue dress was animated with silvery reflections, shimmering under the light, clothing her in a watery brilliance. Her radiant blond hair fell to her waist. And her face... Her face did not seem completely human, so perfect it was. A straight nose, thin black eyebrows, a high forehead and rose-red lips. And her eyes... They were of an indefinable blue-green, which seemed to absorb everything without letting anything out. They seemed like twin unfathomable lakes, their surface the only thing the sun could ever warm. They seemed like mermaid eyes.

Then Camus moved. Distracted, I saw him moving forward and slightly inclining his head before the princess of the deep.

"Ahès," he said with a firm voice. "I kept my promise. I'm back."

Ahès watched him for a moment without answering, standing and unmoving, and yet as gracious as one of Rodin's statues. Then she burst out with a clear laugh, in which I thought I briefly heard again the sound of the silvery bells of Ys.

"I have been waiting for you for years, Gabriel," she finally answered.

"I never precised the day of my return," said my companion, his ultramarine eyes fixed on hers.

Ahès smiled, half-amused, half-bitter.

"No, I suppose not. Even at that time, you were very gifted with telling half-truths."

I saw Camus stiffening.

"I have not had the barest moment to myself all these years," he said in a near-dry voice. "I had to suffer a lot and even risked my life several times. It permitted me to acquire some strength, but it also gave me responsibilities. Heavy responsibilities, which I will bear until my death. And yet, in spite of that, I have found the time to come back."

There was a silence as their eyes fought against each other. Then I saw a slight smile playing on Ahès' lips and she turned to sit back in her throne.

"You're back," she recognized. "After all, that was probably the most important thing. Who is your companion?"

It took me a brief moment to realize she was talking of me, and Camus' answer preceded mine.

"It's Milo, a friend. He came to help me."

I bowed slightly, but my mind was heavily at work again. Camus had not mentioned that we were Saints of Athena, while our Cloths clearly identified us as such. But maybe the inhabitants of Ys had never heard about Saints.

"To help you?" repeated Ahès, amused. "That's certainly the first time I see you asking anybody for help. It isn't like you, Gabriel. But maybe you'll need it, after all. Milo, has Gabriel told you about the legend of Ys?"

"I'm sorry he hasn't, my lady," I answered with a dismissive gesture. "He told me you would explain it better than he could."

"I knew it," Ahès said with a small laugh. "All right, I'm going to tell you the story. After all, I certainly am in the position to do so.

She slightly extended her arms and a vibration went through the air. Then forms and colours began to appear in the space before us. First, dim and blurred, then more and more clear and precise.

"Nearly fifteen centuries ago, the city of Ys was the capital of Cornouaille. Its position was the same as it is today, but it hadn't been flooded by the waves, for a great sea wall protected it from the sea."

The image of Ys appeared before us. Magnificent, as when I had seen it for the first time, but more so, for it opened onto the infinite sky. Outside, raging but impotent, the sea constantly beat upon the walls of city.

"At that time, Ys was the most beautiful of all the cities existing under the sun, but also one of the largest and most powerful. Here were the greatest scholars and the greatest artists, too, and its influence, radiated on hundreds of leagues. The city itself did not know unhappiness. Every day was better than the day before and brought something different."

The vision became so intense that I had to narrow my eyes in order not to be dazzled.

"At that time, the Lord of Ys was my father, King Gradlon. But it was I who truly reigned over the city and inspired those who lived here. Life was wonderful, then. There were lots of celebrations, music, dance. A lot of men, too."

I barely suppressed a smile as I saw Camus' face darken to these words. Had Ahès said this purposedly? It wouldn't have surprised me.

"But, unfortunately, the grandeur of our city created as much jealousy as it did admiration," continued the princess of the deep. "One day, a man arrived at Ys. No one knew who he was nor where he came from, but all those who met him told how strong an impression he had created in them. There was some kind of aura around him. Curious, I finally sent him an invitation, asking him to meet me. And then..."

Ahès let the sentence drop, as if memories were rushing inside of her to replace words. An image appeared, dim and blurred, and yet striking. The image of a black-haired man with eyes like embers, who emitted an intense magnetism. I glanced at Camus and saw that he was biting his lower lip, although the rest of his face remained expressionless. It was amusing, to see him like this, and more than a little strange.

"He seduced me," resumed Ahès with a vague gesture of her hand, as the image disappeared. "I was conquered by his charm and did not discover his true nature in time. There was a storm, that night. During my sleep, he stole the key of the dike, that I always kept at my neck, and opened the doors to the raging sea. The waves entered the walls. My father...

Ahès swallowed, her serene face briefly betraying something akin to suffering.

"My father abandoned me so he could flee. Ys was flooded by water. I thought I would die. But this death was but a short sleep, and I woke up in the middle of my city, at the door of my palace. It was daylight but there was no sun, and the sky had been replaced by the sea. All the inhabitants that had drowned with me were alive, but they had no memory of what had happened, and their minds were trapped in time, unable even to realize that our city was now at the bottom of the ocean."

Ahès spread her arms and voiced a light, half-ironic, half-bitter laugh.

"And this is the story of the city of Ys."

I did not answer immediately, instead trying to put together all that I had heard. This story sounded like a fairy tale, but then, the same could be said of most Greek myths. If what Camus had told me was true, and I didn't doubt it anymore, Ahès had indeed lived in the city at the time of its flooding. So she certainly was in a position to tell the story, but it did not exclude the possibility that she was hiding part of the truth from us, or that she interpreted it her way. However, I couldn't think of a way to check this for the moment. I glanced at Camus, but he stood unmoving at my side, completely expressionless.

"And where do we come in?" I finally asked.

Ahès smiled and raised a finger.

"During all these years, I tried to find a way to lift the curse keeping us here, thus returning Ys to the open air. I discovered I could leave the city and go to the surface, as long as I did not leave the coast. I used this to try to find a solution. But my search gave nothing. The man responsible for this, if he really was human, had disappeared and I never found any trace of him. The scholars I consulted did not give me any answer. Years went by. I didn't grow any older. Many legends appeared about the lost city of Ys, but there were also prophecies telling of its rebirth. Most of them, however, were baseless. And, finally, I went back to Ys. Centuries went past. The world changed while Ys remained the same. Time was a burden to me but I felt out of place outside of the city and I only left on a few occasions, each time hoping to find some help, each time disappointed. And yet, one day, the solution was given to me, in the most peculiar way."

Ahès gestured briefly and the image of a golden key appeared in the air. Heavily ornamented, it was as long as two hands and appeared relatively heavy.

Pencil Drawing
of Ahès by Stayka
(c) 1999 by Stayka

"The key of the dike," explained Ahès. "The key that had been stolen from me was also the only way to lift the curse keeping Ys in the depths of the ocean. When I learned this, I did all I could to recover it. But each time I thought I would be able to succeed..."

Ahès closed her hand on the illusory key, which vanished instantly.

"...I had to realize I had been mistaken. The key was elsewhere and I could not find it myself, being unable to leave the coastline. And no one could help me. Until the day, a bit more than thirteen years ago, when a young boy went alone on the sea on a small boat, although a storm was coming."

Ahès glanced at Camus who didn't react. But I thought I briefly saw the shadow of a smile on the lips of my companion.

"The storm arrived and the small boat was overturned," he suddenly intervened. "And the foolish young boy should have drowned."

"But he didn't," Ahès resumed, "for I saved him just on time and took him with me to a city deeply buried under the surface of the waves. And there, the young boy, whose name was Gabriel, made me a promise. He promised me to be back and to do something for me, whatever it would be."

Ahès suddenly rose and walked to Camus, who did not move.

"You're back, now, Gabriel," she said in a low voice, brushing against his cheek with her slender fingers. "You're back and you're strong enough to succeed. Do you accept to go and seek the key for me? I cannot force you, except by reminding you of your promise."

A long silence followed. Ahès took a step backward and watched Camus, who seemed lost in his thoughts.

"Yes," he finally said. "I'll revover this key for you, you have my word on it."

* * *

A few moments later, while we were again walking through the palace, following reversely the way we had used to arrive, I couldn't help but think about Camus' expression when he had made that promise. I couldn't help but think about what I had read in his eyes and what this implied. And, most of all, I couldn't help but think about what this meant for me. Camus was very likely the only person I could call a friend, but I didn't know how long I could reconcile both this friendship and my duty. I intensely hoped nothing of what we would have to face would be enough to prompt Camus to break the rules of the Saints of Athena or to harm Sanctuary. And, if such a situation appeared, I wondered how he would act. How I would have to react. For I had no doubt that it wouldn't be easy.

I understood now the strange, seemingly contradictory behaviour of Camus during our journey. He, too, had certainly feared the effects that seeing this woman again would have on him. For the first time since he had donned his Cloth, he was torn between two possibly opposed obligations. And, if these two obligations ever conflicted and if the obedience he owed Athena did not get the upper hand, I might have to kill him.

For it was obvious that Camus was desperately in love with Ahès, the princess of the deep.

To Be Continued


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